Motorists with petrol-fuelled cars were warned they face being dragged into the Volkswagen emissions rigging scandal, that is threatening the future of diesel cars.
On Tuesday the UK Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin called for the European Commission to launch an urgent investigation after the German car manufacturer admitted that 11 million vehicles worldwide could have been fitted with software which misled regulators.
The software is designed to switch on fume-supressing technology during testing, allowing cars to pass strict environmental checks, while still spewing out dangerous levels of nitrogen oxides on the road.
Millions of cars face being recalled if the scandal is as wide-reaching as feared, and car owners could see performance drop dramatically if manufacturers are forced to install new technology to cut fumes.
On Tuesday France's finance minister called for a "Europe-wide" probe while Germany, South Korea and Italy all launched independent inquiries. German Chancellor Angela Merkel called for ‘full transparency’ from Volkswagen as it emerged that transport ministry investigators were sending a fact-finding committee to factories this week.
It came as:
- Volkswagen saw nearly €30bn (£21.7bn) wiped of its market value after it admitted 11 million vehicles worldwide were affected
- Health experts claimed nearly 12,000 lives a year in Britain were being lost because emissions have not fallen
- The United Nations said the scandal was ‘deeply troubling’
- The European Commission said it would ‘shed light’ on Volkswagen’s actions
On Tuesday Volkswagen was forced to admit that millions more vehicles were now likely to be recalled because they were fitted with software that misled regulators.
France's finance minister called for a "Europe-wide" probe while Germany, South Korea and Italy all launched independent inquiries. German Chancellor Angela Merkel called for ‘full transparency’ from Volkswagen adding she hopes "the facts will be put on the table as quickly as possible".
The US Environmental Protection Agency also said it had widened its own investigation to other car companies causing shares to tumble globally.
So far the scandal has only affected diesel cars, but campaigners warned it was likely that manufacturers were also cheating on carbon dioxide emissions from petrol vehicles.
Former government advisor Greg Archer, of the Transport & Environment thinktank, said: “It is probably not limited to diesel and not limited to emissions. There has been a lot of anecdotal evidence about carmakers using these defeat devices.”
Volkswagen originally admitted that only 482,000 cars were affected but on Tuesday said 11 million cars with type EA 189 engines also showed ‘anomalies.’
The engine in question is a 2.0 litre, four-cylinder turbodiesel which is fitted to many Volkswagen cars including brands Audi, Skoda and Seat. Industry experts said cars with the engine had definitely been sold in Britain.
Drivers were told they would be directly contacted by Volkswagen if they had bought a car that was affected.
Motoring experts said the company would either have to limit turbo-boosters, which could affect performance, or fit a larger urea tank to clean fumes before they reach the exhaust. Drivers will then face the added costs of keeping tanks topped up which would be around £50-a-year.
The European Commission said it was in contact with Volkswagen and US regulators to find out how widespread the deception had gone and UK Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin called for the EC to launch an urgent investigation.
“We are closely monitoring the situation and have been pushing for action at a European level for more accurate tests that reflect driving on the road,” said Mr McLoughlin.
“It’s vital that the public has confidence in vehicle emissions tests and I am calling for the European Commission to investigate this issue as a matter of urgency.”
France also demanded a Europe-wide investigation. French Finance Minister Michael Sapin said: “This is not a minor subject, it's not about speed or the quality of leather. What we are dealing with is making sure people avoid being poisoned by pollution.”
Lucia Caudet, industry spokeswoman for the European Commission, told reporters at a daily briefing that while it is "premature to draw any conclusions," the commission needs to "shed light" on VW's actions.
"We owe it to our consumers and for the environment. We have to be absolutely certain that industry is respecting emission limits for cars," she said.
But Liberal Democrat MEP Catherine Bearder warned that European regulators are failing to enforce emission standards.
“Manufacturers in the US have been caught out, but we know that pollution limits are also being breached in Europe,” she said.
“We need to tighten EU emission standards and make sure they are properly enforced. Unless we take action, thousands of lives will continue to be tragically cut short by air pollution.”
Health experts said that pollution should have fallen by half if the car industry had kept its commitment to cutting emissions levels. But instead 23,500 people are still dying every year because of nitrogen oxide. It suggests that nearly 12,000 lives might have been saved if emissions targets were met.
"The auto industry has to be a partner in all efforts in the private sector in terms of combating climate change," said UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric.
Shares in Volkswagen which were already, down 19 per cent on Monday, fell by a further 18 per cent. The total value wiped off the company is now approaching 30 billion Euros.
Rivals such as Renault, BMW and Mercedes owner Daimler - none of which have been drawn into the scandal themselves - also saw market falls.
Volkswagen chief executive officer (ceo) Martin Winterkorn vowed to get to the bottom of the scandal shaking the carmaker, and do everything possible to prevent such an incident from happening again, but the German executive's own job may already be hanging in the balance.